California Legislature Secretly Processes 500 Bills in Mere Minutes

Jerry Brown (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

On Thursday, the appropriations committees of the California State Assembly and State Senate quietly passed or rejected nearly 500 pending bills, spending just a few second on each, with little public debate — but after plenty of lobbyist input.

The Sacramento Bee reports:

Few real votes were taken. Mostly, committee chairs just announced bills’ fates, or ignored those being killed.

While most bills were approved, dozens died and some were amended extensively, although details of changes were not immediately revealed.

The “suspense file” ritual exemplifies perpetual efforts of those in the Capitol to do what they do with minimum exposure to the public, occasionally interrupted by spasms of procedural reform, which inevitably erode into further sneakiness.

While about 350 bills passed, Capital Public Radio, via the Associated Press, reports that several noteworthy bills were killed:

  • stronger criminal penalties for illegal distribution of fentanyl, a powerful opioid that health officials say is responsible for multiple deaths and hospitalizations in recent months;
  • a bill that would have given whistleblower protection to legislative employees, who unlike other state workers do not have such protection
  • a tax on medical marijuana growers
  • a reduction in the fine for drivers who roll through red lights without stopping before making right turns
  • a bill that would have strengthened rape kit reporting requirements
  • a state tax break on Olympic medals
  • a bill that would have extended the “school district of choice” program, which allows parents to transfer their children to a willing school district without the agreement of the district that child lives in. The program is currently set to expire at the end of the 2016-2017 school year.

Among the bills that were hurried through the process to the next phase were a bill to extend the state’s cap-and-trade climate change program, and a bill to allow Vietnamese rice cakes to be sold at room temperature.

The Bee notes that the “suspense file” procedure was originally a “fiscal prudence” measure that to delay action on financial bills until a budget was passed, then hurry them through. However, it is now abused to pass or reject all manner of legislation.

A referendum in November, Proposition 54, would partially address some of the shortcomings of the California legislature’s secretive procedures by requiring the legislature to publish, in print and online, every bill at least 72 hours before a vote.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. His new book, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, is available from Regnery through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.